Getting your Travel Agency Online and Beyond.
By Abacus International
Sunday, 20th November 2011
The Asia-Pacific region remains the dominant audience of the Internet with 43% of users residing in Asia, with online penetration expected to increase by 30 per cent by 2015 and will be critical in the global Internet competition.1

According to a ComScore2 report, the greater adoption of broadband and increasing web penetration in both emerging and developed Asian markets will continue drive additional consumption.

1. Enabling your business to thrive online

Today's travel agents are highly aware that they need to be online to remain competitive and capture tech-savvy customers.

Getting online is easy! Simply acquire a domain name, create a website, upload pictures and information, and you officially have an online presence. To enable your agency business to thrive, however, requires more than just registering a domain name.

In this e-guide, we provide easy-to-implement methods that will help you better manage your online presence but also generate revenue and give your business the competitive edge.

2. Creating effective web design

It is a common mistake to underestimate the importance of good web design. An effective web design goes beyond fanciful video animation or music enablement. To fully communicate and connect with your consumers, your website must first provide relevant information, and second, allow for easy navigation.

A web article3 authored by Dr. Jakob Nielsen, an advocate for making the Internet easier to use, provides some tips to avoid common mistakes made when designing websites.

a) Avoid designs that look like an advertisement!
Web users are usually goal-driven in their navigation when they go online. They know what they are looking for and tend to ignore flashy advertisements or irrelevant content. To prevent your website from looking like an advertisement, limit the number of banners on a page and avoid having too much blinking, flashing text or other aggressive animations. Users almost never fixate their eyes on anything that resembles a banner ad.

Another common mistake made is pop-ups. Pop-ups may seem attention-grabbing. However, they are also viewed as an annoyance by users. It is common for users to close pop-up windows even before they are fully opened.

b) Change the color of visited links
Links make up a user's navigation process. By having links that change colour when clicked, users can easily track which pages they have visited and helps them avoid revisiting the same pages again.
Should the visited links remain the same colour, users may experience navigational disorientation and unintentionally revisit the same pages repeatedly causing frustration.

c) Offer resizable font size
CSS style sheets, despite making web design an easier process, unfortunately disables a Web browser's "change font size" button. If the fixed font size is too small, readability will be reduced significantly. It is important to give users the ability to resize text as needed. If that is not possible, especially when using CSS style sheets, do specify font sizes in relative terms — not as an absolute number of pixels.

d) Display prices
All users are your potential customers so be sure to list the prices of your products and services. Price is the most specific piece of information and not providing it reduces customers' understanding of your product line. Knowing the price is a key factor in both situations; it lets users differentiate among products and allows them to click through to the most relevant ones.

e) Answer users' questions
Users are highly goal-driven on the Web. Provide as much product detail as possible. You may lose a potential sale if the user cannot find the information they need as they may assume that your product does not meet their needs. Include a page on frequently asked questions and a contact link for users to contact you with any specific requests or questions. Be sure to respond to each user's questions in the shortest time possible.

Should you receive comments or feedback via your contact link, do provide your response in a fair and honest manner. Please refer to section 6 of this eGuide which highlights the importance of being transparent about customers' feedback in order to build trust and win your customers' hearts.

3. Establishing an advance payment space

With the Edgar, Dunn & Company's forecast4 of global advanced payment at US$1,842 billion by 2015, it is essential to establish a payment gateway for your online business. An advanced payment is when a customer confirms the booking of travel details, such as air tickets and/or hotel room nights and is prepared to make payment via the Internet.

As the explosion of e-commence in the Internet space drives a multitude of new and innovative developments in the area of online payments, you should be prepared to form a strategic partnership with an online payment vendor to help you remain competitive.

Building the right partnership with an appropriate payment vendor is highly critical to any online business. The payment partner needs to work with you to ensure that not only your business objectives are achieved but also to meet your service expectations. Some key aspects to consider when selecting a suitable online payment vendor are:

a) Proven record of reliability
The vendor's service quality has to be delivered at global industry practice levels, with a business continuity plan and commitment to invest in research and development of new, innovative payment technologies in supporting world payment systems.

b) Scalability and flexibility
When planning for business expansion, your vendor needs to be able to grow with you and support large volumes of transactions as well as provide reliable, responsive services during peak periods. There must be adequate flexibility for the implementation of future enhancements.

c) Risk management
The vendor must have in place an effective fraud management system with card scheme verification tools and fraud checks coupled with the possibility to integrate with third-party fraud services for total risk management and prevention.

d) Bank partnerships and technical support
By having long standing relationships with leading banks coupled with providing professional services and technical support personnel, a vendor with dedicated eCommerce experts will help ensure your success.

e) Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) certification
The vendor must be listed as a certified PCI DSS provider. PCI DSS is an industry compliance standard which prevents the loss of sensitive data from the lack of unsecured network systems. This then ensures the security of consumer payment information.

4. Securing your website against online fraud

According to a report by First Data Corporation5, one of the world's largest providers of merchant processing services, nearly 9 percent of online sales are lost annually due to consumers' security concerns about online purchases.

Lost sales may also be the result of suspicious-looking transactions that are declined but are actually legitimate. If your online customers' legitimate transactions are declined on your web site, they often eventually complete their purchase on a competing site – and may never return to yours.

So how can you employ fraud prevention measures that are strong enough to protect your business yet are flexible enough to minimise costs, provide a smooth customer shopping experience and avoid rejecting legitimate transactions? Phil Levy, Vice President, eCommerce Solutions at First Data Corporation of First Data, shares more:

a) Detect fraud at checkout
Your payment vendor should offer you robust fraud detection capabilities. This array of anti-fraud tools includes:
  • Automated, out-of-wallet challenge/response questions that can authenticate a shopper's identity
  • Tools that monitor web site behaviors and detect usage patterns that are abnormal
  • Customisable filters that automatically screen for transactions that fall into certain defined parameters and flag them for special attention 
  • Geo-location tracking that uses a shopper's IP address to identify the country from which the online order is made
  • Fingerprinting devices that identify the PC or mobile device that is interacting with your site or placing the orders
  • Tools that enable you to set parameters and monitor velocity of critical transaction data, including card number, bill to/ship address, email, phone number, IP address, device ID, and even, product SKUs.
b) Lower cost with technology
Sophisticated technology is now available to help keep payment card data isolated and secure while allowing access when needed. You are in a better position to protect card data by deploying a layered approach to data security.

This approach includes capitalising on the inherent advantages of encryption, tokenization and other technologies. Tokenization eliminates the need to store card data, and as a result, can dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of PCI compliance.

Through a comprehensive approach to risk management, develop an integrated and holistic approach towards fraud management. This can reduce the cost of fraud and compliance, while at the same time, strengthen customer confidence and loyalty.

5. Going social

Adding Facebook and Twitter elements in your website is the first step to social marketing. However a reasonable amount of effort is required to stand out amidst the clutter present in social space. Here are a few tips from Bob Egner6, an expert at leading marketing and product management activities for software companies, in creating a website that is not only just social, but can also boost business results too.

a) Moderate customers' feedback fairly
If you kill every negative comment you receive, you risk losing respect as a fair moderator, or worse still, alienate your community. It is much better to respond constructively to negative feedback within the same forum. In addition, do respond to all feedback openly and honestly — you will be amazed to find out how much are customers willing to forgive if you just say sorry. This portrays you as a non-biased and fair service provider.

b) Reward loyal customers
It is harder to retain existing customers than to attract new ones. Look after your existing customers by giving them special privileges and rewarding their loyalty. They will return the favour one day by recommending your services to their friends and family.

c) Update your content regularly
Content on your site is what that keeps the social community interested, involved and alive. Update and replace information to keep it relevant and always new. Ensure your content management system can easily connect your website content with the community.

d) Respect privacy
Respecting the privacy of your community is absolutely essential. Do not abuse their trust by releasing their data to third-party vendors if it has not been communicated and agreed upon.

e) Ensure server performance
In general, social websites do make much greater demands on your servers versus websites that host simple contents. This is especially evident if your community uploads photos and videos as a form of sharing their travel experiences. Ensure your server provider has the capabilities to support large file sizes otherwise regular occurrence of poor server performance can be annoying.

6. Using numbers to analyse your website

To gauge the popularity or viewership of your website, you can draw on the results of web analytics. Web analytics is a useful tool for measuring your website traffic as it provides an indication on whether your website content is well received. This can be seen through the number of visitors, repeat visitors and the length of time spent on a particular webpage.

Taking some advice from Idealware7, a nonprofit organisation that provides thoroughly researched, impartial and accessible information about software, the first thing you might want to track is a measure of how many people are using your site.

Key things to note include:

  • Hits – the total number of requests for text, images and files your web server receives for a given page
  • Visits – the number of visitors to a particular site or page
  • Unique visitors – the number of site visits by different users
  • Page views – the number of times any page viewed by any visitor, divided by visits to a give a page-views-per-visit figure
Besides just tracking the number of visitors to your site, you also need to find out what site features and pages that your customers are interested in.

Key things to note include:
  • Bounce rate – the percentage of visits where the visitor left your site after viewing only one page
  • Top entry and exit pages – the pages on which most visitors enter your site
  • Click paths – graphical representations of typical journeys through your site
  • Conversion – tracks the number of people who did what you want them to do, such as directing them to your booking page
To understand if your site is performing and generating sales, you need to analyse the path from the landing page to the target action page or your booking page. Look out for the top exit pages as you analyse the click paths as this will give you an idea of whether the entire booking process is too lengthy or if there is any redundant information on your site.

7. Planning is key to success

According to a report by Forrester Research8, the number of Internet users is set to grow from 1.6 billion in 2009 to 2.2 billion by 2013 and with nearly 50% of all Internet users making online purchases, the Internet will soon become a leading sales channel.

Planning is the key to tapping this growing opportunity. As your agency makes the transition into the online space, you may encounter time-consuming implementation processes or even some disruptions. However, with careful planning as well as strategic partnerships, you will definitely see an increase in business growth and reap the rewards in the online arena.


1 Eumonitor
2 ComScore, State of the Internet with a focus on Asia Pacific, Nov 2009.
3 "Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design" (
4 Edgar, Dunn & Company highlighted in Advanced Payment – Where are we going, 10 Jun 2009.
transactionage.con/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/ecommerce_wp.pdf by Phil Levy, First Data, Payment Strategies for eCommerce Growth, July 2010.
marketingprofs.com/articles/2011/4367/why-your-b2b-website-needs-social-interaction Published on February 3, 2011 "Why Your B2B Website Needs Social Interaction" by Bob Egner.
7 Laura S. Quinn and Kyle Andrei, April 2011 A Few Good Web Analytics Tools, Idealware i
8 Forrester Research 2010.

Abacus International is Asia's leading provider of travel solutions and services since 1988. Staffed by people who ‘grew up' in the airline and travel and leisure industry, we know Asia's business nuances by the heartbeat. This invaluable attribute has helped us in widening the distribution of travel content from hundreds of travel suppliers including airlines, hotels, car rentals and insurance providers.

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